Ireland in talks with international court on witness relocation scheme
Prosecutor says witness interference a major problem
The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda: “Whether due to incapacity of unwillingness, failure to execute warrants of arrest in a timely manner remains a serious problem.” Photograph: Peter Dejong/EPA
The Government is in discussions with the International Criminal Court (ICC) on a deal that would see witnesses who testify before the court resettled in Ireland. The scheme would involve the State offering protection and support to some individuals who testify at the court, which was established in 2002 to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The court has struck similar agreements with a number of other countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK, and officials expect the Irish deal to be finalised next year.
The court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in Dublin last night that witness interference and intimidation was a major and growing challenge facing her office and needed to be addressed.
“Protection of witnesses is one of the court’s main priorities and in this regard the conclusion of witness relocation agreements with the court is a practical way through which [states] can help the court meet this challenge,” Ms Bensouda said. “I’m happy to note that Ireland is engaged in discussions with a view to concluding just such a witness relocation agreement with the court.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the agreement did not specify a number of witnesses to be relocated in Ireland, although the total is expected to be relatively small. She said costs and duration of stay would be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.
“Ireland views this agreement as a practical way to support the work of the ICC in fostering justice and rule of law internationally,” she added.
The ICC has opened investigations into eight situations in Africa, including in Darfur, Libya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It has publicly indicted 36 people and issued arrest warrants for 27, including President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan.
At the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, Ms Bensouda said the biggest challenge facing the court was the execution of arrest warrants. As the court does not have its own police force, it relies exclusively on the co-operation of the 122 states that are parties to the statute of the court.
“To date, there are five persons in custody . . . but there are still some 14 warrants of arrest that remain outstanding,” she said. These include the warrants for President Bashir and Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda.
“It is ironic that these people continue to be implicated in the commission of crimes even though warrants of arrest have been issued against them,” Ms Bensouda said.
She added that it was “throwing good money after bad” for the international community to invest in the investigation of these persons “and yet remain reticent” to arrest them to face prosecution.
“Whether due to incapacity of unwillingness, failure to execute warrants of arrest in a timely manner remains a serious problem,” Ms Bensouda continued. “Victims of appalling atrocities continue to suffer and fugitives from justice continue to evade an accounting for the crimes they are alleged to have committed.”